Forest fires on Australia's usually cooler island state of Tasmania have forced thousands of residents and tourists to flee, many by boat, and razed at least 80 homes and premises.
Police said late Saturday there were no confirmed fatalities but one firefighting team had reported seeing a homeowner trapped in flames while trying to protect his property.
Several thousand people had taken refuge at historic Port Arthur and another coastal town, Nubeena, waiting to be ferried to Tasmania's capital Hobart, said police acting police commissioner Scott Tilyard.
Worst hit was the settlement of Dunalley, where its school, bakery, petrol station and police station were gutted by flames. Likewise, neighboring fishing villages had also lost between 30 to 40 percent of their homes.
One Dunalley resident told Australia's national broadcaster ABC that the wildfire burned right down to the waterline while he sheltered on a boat. "It was just unbelievable. The sky was just scarlet," said the witness who gave his name as David.
Record heat wave
Since Friday, when Hobart recorded a record 41.8 degrees Celsius (107.2 degrees Fahrenheit), temperatures have dropped. It was Hobart's hottest day since records began in the 1880s.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the images from Tasmania were heartbreaking and reminiscent of 2009 when bushfires in southern Victoria state claimed 173 lives.
Australia's record heat wave has also resulted in bushfires in other parts of Australia, including New South Wales and Queensland.
ipj/sej (dpae, AFP)
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